Add making near-weekly trips to Florida to the U.S. president's list of essential duties. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, asked Monday if President Trump would consider cutting back on weekend trips to his Mar-a-Lago resort in order to save taxpayer money, claimed the trips are "part of being president." "Presidents always travel," Spicer said.
Spicer said it was a "vast reach" to suggest Trump's trips should be curbed in light of his budget blueprint released last week, which proposes steep cuts to federal programs like Meals on Wheels in order to offset a huge boost in defense and security spending. Thus far, taxpayers have paid an estimated $3.3 million for Trump's trips to what Spicer calls the "Winter White House." Quartz reported Meals on Wheels "could feed 5,967 seniors for a year for that amount."
Sean Spicer says Trump's frequent trips to Mar-a-Lago "is part of being president" https://t.co/cv7LcDrLvn
— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 20, 2017
When pressed about the golf outings Trump is reportedly taking on these trips down south, Spicer noted Trump's rounds of golf are about more than just golf. Spicer explained that Trump's golf games are different than former President Barack Obama's — which Trump repeatedly criticized — because of how Trump manages to "use the game of golf" to "help U.S. interests." Spicer noted Trump frequently golfs with foreign leaders — something Obama did too:
Spicer just said Trump playing golf is diff than Obama playing golf because Trump is playing w/ key leaders. Here's who Obama played with pic.twitter.com/6ki6c5uiYU
— Yashar (@yashar) March 20, 2017
Asked if the press should be briefed on Trump's golfing if so many important meetings are allegedly happening on the greens, Spicer argued Trump is "entitled to a bit of privacy at some point." Becca Stanek
"Of all the questions hanging over the special counsel investigation, one stands out: How will President Trump fare in the end?" asks Michael Schmidt and his colleagues at The New York Times. They run through Special Counsel Robert Mueller's three main options and what would happen next — Schmidt provides a good summary in the video below.
But one former senior FBI official who used to work under Mueller tells Vanity Fair the special counsel isn't really interested in Trump's fate. "Mueller doesn't care if he gets Trump," the official said. "He doesn't care if he doesn't get Trump. He has no political agenda. He is digging through the layers and bringing back the truth, and the truth is going to be whatever it is going to be." But he had some interesting thoughts on what Mueller is doing:
This investigation is classic Mueller: He is doing a classic, organized crime case. This is RICO 101, working your way up and sideways. You pop a few guys for gambling. ... You flip one guy who you arrest with no fanfare. It's exactly what Mueller has been doing his whole goddamn life. It's just that this time the boss of the family happens to be the leader of the free world. [Former FBI official to Vanity Fair]
Vanity Fair's Chris Smith specifically examines Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani's role, whether his exploitation of Mueller's inability or refusal to push back against the Giuliani-Trump scorched-earth attack on the investigation will prevail. The ex-FBI official said "Mueller is critically aware of everything that's being written or said" but "he completely tunes it out," for good reason. He brought up the old expression about the dangers of mud-wrestling with a pig, arguing that "the very fact that Mueller refuses to respond to the most outrageous criticisms and claims is the reason the pig is wrestling with itself in its own mud." Read more at Vanity Fair. Peter Weber
Stephen Colbert asks Stephen King about Trump's Twitter block, grills the Devil about that White House sinkhole
On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that President Trump can no longer block people on Twitter. "So for those of you who can once again read Donald Trump's tweets, congratulations! — and I am so sorry," Stephen Colbert said on The Late Show. "From now on, if Trump wants to send messages exclusively to his supporters, he'll have to do so on his Etsy pages." He explained the ruling and said it was "adorable" that the judge thought her decision would encourage Trump to change his habits.
Colbert pivoted from Trump's tweets to the staffers who ghostwrite them, reportedly including typos to make them seem authentically Trump. He feigned disbelief at this perfidy, and said he felt personally betrayed by the revelation that some staffer writes some of the tweets Colbert has made an art of reading in Trump's voice. "It's so dishonest — I mean, I would never come out here and read a bunch of words I didn't write myself," he added, throwing in a little self-deprecation.
Colbert was able to ask Stephen King about being blocked by Trump on Twitter. King touched on what got him Trump-blocked and he didn't seem overly broken up about it — in fact, he blocked both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in return, for slightly different reasons.
Finally, Colbert took a look at the sinkhole that's opening up on the White House lawn. "It's true — it finally happened: The Earth is fighting back," Colbert said. But he wasn't convinced by the geologist who assured everyone that sinkholes aren't "the gates of hell opening," so he threw to the Devil in Hell, who — it turns out — did disavow responsibility. "Oh, here no!" the Devil said. "I don't want to get mixed up with Donald Trump! Have you seen what they did to Michael Cohen? I don't need Mueller on my ass — I run a legitimate business torturing the damned." Peter Weber
Under a new Trump administration proposal, hunters will once again be able to shoot bear and wolf cubs in their dens. "And I say it's about time," Jimmy Kimmel deadpanned on Wednesday's Kimmel Live. "I don't know about you, but I am sick and tired of not being able to shoot bear cubs in their dens. I mean, what are you supposed to do, wait for them to waddle out adorably and start rolling around? That's not American!" He also mentioned Trump's easing of a ban on importing African elephant trophies, despite saying he wouldn't, "which is disgusting," Kimmel said, "but not only isn't the president backing down, he's going all in on this." That cued up a fake Trump TV ad, and it gets pretty dark. Eric and Donald Trump Jr. make a cameo at the end. Watch below. Peter Weber
4 Democrats, and Trump's chief of staff, will now attend Thursday's classified FBI informant briefing
Only two members of Congress — House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif) and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) — will be at a noon Justice Department briefing on Thursday about an FBI informant who contacted members of President Trump's campaign in 2016. But after protests from Democrats and some Republicans that only two House Republicans and no Democrats were invited, there will now be a second briefing at 2 p.m. with the Gang of 8 — the top Senate and House leaders and intelligence committee members from both parties — plus Gowdy. Despite a previous assurance from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that "no member of the White House staff" would be at the top secret briefing, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will attend both briefings.
Representing U.S. intelligence and law enforcement at the briefing will be Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Director of Intelligence Dan Coats. The Justice Department hasn't said what information will be shared with lawmakers and Kelly about the informant.
The invitees to the second meeting are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Ryan will not attend, due to a "longstanding schedule commitment," according to spokeswoman AshLee Strong, and three Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans — Chuck Grassley (Iowa), John Cornyn (Texas), and Lindsay Graham (S.C.) — have also asked to attend.
Kelly brokered the meetings at Trump's insistence, amid unsubstantiated claims by Trump that the FBI "spied" on his campaign for political, not counterintelligence, reasons. His personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani says Trump should get access to the information, too, even though he's a subject of the investigation. Peter Weber
On Wednesday, wildlife officials in Wyoming approved plans for the state's first season of grizzly bear hunting in 43 years, scheduled to begin on Sept. 1.
Hunters will be able to kill as many as 22 grizzlies during the season, Reuters reports. There are now fewer than 2,000 grizzly bears in the 48 contiguous United States. There were once more than 100,000, by 1975, after decades of shooting, trapping, and poisoning, there were only a few hundred bears left, and they were placed under federal protection.
Last June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced there were now enough grizzly bears in the region that the species no longer needed to be listed as threatened; conservationists disagree, arguing that the grizzly bear population is vulnerable to climate change and that poaching remains an issue. Native Americans are also outraged. Brian Jackson of the Blackfoot Confederacy told Reuters the grizzly bear is "a sacred being that is central to our religious and life ways. This is not a hunting issue; this is a killing issue."
Earlier this month, Idaho approved a plan that allows for just one grizzly to be hunted when the season opens Sept. 1, while Montana has decided against permitting grizzly hunting, because the state is still concerned about the long-term recovery of the population. Catherine Garcia
Trump has apparently branded the FBI informant a 'spy' because it sounds more nefarious and headline-worthy
President Trump is "a little rusty, but he's on offense" in the federal Russian collusion and obstruction of justice investigation, longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone told Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman. "And it's always better to be on offense than defense." His offense involves calling reports about an FBI informant feeling out a few of his campaign advisers in 2016 evidence that a "spy" infiltrated his campaign, and on Wednesday, Trump debuted his newest brand: "Spygate."
There is no publicly available evidence that there was any politically motivated "spying" on his campaign, and plenty of common-sense reasons to doubt the idea, but "the president himself is convinced that the secret FBI informant who reportedly met with several Trump campaign advisers in 2016 was not merely an informant, but an Obama political operative," Sherman reports. The Associated Press corroborated that narrative on Wednesday, but added in the suggestion from an ally of the president's that Trump's cynical showmanship came into play, too:
Trump has told confidants in recent days that the revelation of an informant was potential evidence that the upper echelon of federal law enforcement has conspired against him, according to three people familiar with his recent conversations but not authorized to discuss them publicly. Trump told one ally this week that he wanted "to brand" the informant a "spy," believing the more nefarious term would resonate more in the media and with the public. [The Associated Press]
Think about all the coverage Trump's unsubstantiated "spying" accusations and new nickname have been getting, and he may have a point. Peter Weber
Members of the Culinary Union in Las Vegas are prepared to go on strike if the casinos don't approve a proposed five-year contract by the time the current contract expires on May 31.
The union says that of the 25,000 members who voted this week, 99 percent were in favor of a strike. In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the mass shooting outside the Mandalay Bay resort that left 58 people dead, the union is asking for more sexual harassment and safety protections, as well as a larger share of casino profits and more training in the latest technology.
Bethany Kahn, a spokeswoman for the organization, told the Los Angeles Times that the union has heard about "instances of verbal and physical abuse by guests and high rollers against cocktail servers and bartenders. We want language in the new contract regarding guests and high rollers that show zero tolerance for harassment so workers can do their work in dignity." The new contract would cover 50,000 workers at 34 casinos, including MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment resorts.
Last year, 42.2 million people visited Las Vegas, the city's Visitors and Convention Authority said, and Ruben Garcia, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, told the Times a strike could be "crippling because it's summer and there will be a lot of big events, including the NHL playoffs." The last citywide labor strike, in 1984, lasted 67 days. MGM and Caesars have both said they expect to come up with an agreement soon. Catherine Garcia